It means laughter. When you are young and sitting all fidgety in children's church, you're told it is because Sarah, his mother, laughed when the Lord said she would bring forth a son from her womb. After all, she was an old lady. Instantly, your child brain starts picturing Lucille (or insert a woman from your own childhood here) who sits at the front of the church, playing the tambourine with painted on bow-shaped lips and singing opera style to I'll Fly Away. In your mind, Lucille is Sarah, and she's about to give birth to a son. Gross.
Yeah. I'd laugh, too.
Yes, Isaac was the son of Abraham and Isaac. God did honor the promise He gave to Abraham, even though Abraham did not believe Him, took matters into his own hands, and had already produced an heir in Ishmael. Yes, Isaac is the key in that troublesome story that comes later on, the story I never understood as a child. Abraham had gone through many trails and tests the Lord set before him. He faced famine, near death time and time again, promises that seemed to go unanswered, and then God asked Him to prove his devotion by sacrificing his son on an alter. That's just not cool. It doesn't make sense. Why would God promise Abraham a son through Sarah, only to have Abraham sacrifice him? In children's church, when you reach this part of the story, the whole room goes quiet. All the kids stop fidgeting and grow wide-eyed. Everyone looks at the adults in the room, checking their hands for knives or any other instruments for sacrificial rituals. Would they be next? Where were their parents? Why were the doors shut? Would anyone hear them scream???
But here's what my teacher left out:
In this time and age, living child sacrifice was common practice.
How horrible! What kind of people do things like that (heathens)?! What kind of god demands such an honor?
But the God of Israel was making a point: He didn't demand such an honor. The Lord of Israel was attempting to develop a new relationship with the people and bring them out of some messed up ways they had created for themselves. First, He wanted to show them there was only one true God. He even calls Himself the one true strong God (Genesis 17:1 Message). But the people were stuck in rituals, idol worship, human sacrifices (again, seriously?!), and really had no clue who God really was. I am sure even Abraham was learning with each step toward this God few understood or knew. So when God asked him to sacrifice Isaac, he didn't second guess it.
Some rabbis teach that Isaac was not a child at this time, but instead, was around 37 year-old. They believe Isaac loved this new, strong God his father was devoted to (yes, God wasn't new...but kind He was at this time because we'd fallen away). Isaac was willing to be a sacrifice. That's how devoted He was to the Lord. He blindly agreed to do whatever he could, play whatever role he was asked, so long as it brought honor the name of the Lord.
Yet, God had a good plan. He didn't want His people sacrificing their children on alters. That wasn't love! That wasn't honor! That hurt. Literally. And what kind of people did He want following after Him? People that could so savagely take the life of another; people bound by ritual, tradition and law? Not really. He wanted something different, and yes, it would take until the moment HIS son died on the cross for it to fully mature, but He had a plan. So when Isaac was placed on the alter and Abraham raised his weapon, God stopped everything...
Remember, this was normal to Abraham. I'm sure he didn't want to kill his son, but it wasn't unheard of. So imagine the surprise when God provided a lamb. Imagine Isaac's surprise when He realized he was not going to die that day. Basically God showed up and said, "Guys...I have a new way. Everything you thought you knew about Me, well...I'm not like those other guys. I'm not going to hurt you. I have a better way."
Imagine that laughter. Both in heaven and on earth.
So what is the story of Isaac revealing to me for such a time as this? Well...I sit her at the kitchen table and the sun is just now beginning to brighten the night sky. My heart is confused because I can't see the way ahead of me in ministry as clearly as I'd like. I know what I've been taught as a child, what my heritage is, but I see something new on the horizon. I see a strong God leading me....
And I suppose that in the very quiet of the morning, I hear the laughter of my Father echoing across the walls of my heart. He bellows out with joy, "My daughter, I have a new way! Everything you thought you knew about Me, well...I'm going to show you something different. I won't hurt you. I have a plan."
So I won't be surprised, but will laugh with him. I have a strong God leading me.
And you remember those Abrams I was talking about yesterday? He's leading them, too. I think He wants to use all of us Abrams and Isaacs to show the church and the world that our God is strong, good...and taking us into something new. Whatever it is, it's beautiful; it's good. It always is.
"For I know the plans I have for you," declares the Lord, "Plans to prosper you and not harm you, plans to give you hope and a future."